Löwen beat Kielce, leapfrog them into fourth - for now
A win was key for Löwen to be back in the fold in the fight for the fourth place in the group, as they knew a win would have seen them leapfrog their opponents, Kielce. It was definitely not the prettiest victory for the German side, whose attack still needs improvement, but they still got the two points after a 30:29 win.
However, the one-goal win means that even though Löwen leapfrog Kielce now, the Polish side holds the overall tiebreaker, courtesy of their 35:32 home win earlier in the season.
- Veteran Andy Schmid scored eight goals for Löwen, while Kielce’s effort was a team one, with Julen Aguinagalde – five goals – leading a group of four players who scored four times
- Löwen and Kielce are fourth and fifth, with 14 points, one point less than Vardar, who is third, but have a game in hand
- Löwen will finish the group against Barça, while Kielce host Veszprem, as the two sides face the top two teams in the group
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL) 30:29 (18:14)
Combining for only three wins in their last ten games meant that both Löwen and Kielce were in dire form and needed to pick up the pace, as the season was getting closer and closer to its climax.
However, Kielce’s injury woes were well documented, as missing brother Alex and Daniel Dujshebaev plus playmaker Luka Cindric was critical for their backcourt.
Indeed, Löwen took advantage of Kielce’s problems and jumped to a 10:7 lead after 18 minutes, as backs Andre Schmid and Mads Mensah Larsen ran riot for the German attack, scoring four goals apiece. With Kielce relying on their veterans, Michal Jurecki, Julen Aguinagalde or Krzystof Lijewski, the Polish side was missing the speed and tricks in attack, while their defence continued to leak easy goals.
QUICK-PICK: The line players of @RNLoewen and @KielceHandball showed their silky skills earlier tonight in their #veluxehfcl Group A clash. Both Kielce's Artsem Karalek and Löwen's Jannik Kohlbacher show grace and power in front of goal. pic.twitter.com/RzlwTWXDro— EHF Champions League (@ehfcl) February 20, 2019
Heavily relying on their starters, Löwen kept going full gas and despite a Jannik Kohlbacher injury scare, the German side was on par to stop their two-game losing streak, leading at the break, 18:14.
Welcoming Kohlbacher back into the fold, Löwen should have looked the same, yet Kielce enjoyed a brighter start, as their defence toughened up and the German goals dried up.
Löwen were only two goals up, 21:19, as there were 21 minutes left, but their free-flowing attack got newfound strength and helped the hosts back to a 25:22 lead, as Kohlbacher was unstoppable, scoring five of his seven goals in the second half.
But a relentless Kielce did not back down. Despite all their problems, the Polish side kept close thanks to a collective effort, as Löwen failed to open a sufficient gap that would have seen them undo the 35:32 loss from the first mutual game between the two sides. The game did not go to the wire, as Löwen sealed the win with three minutes to go, but Kielce cut the gap to only one goal, 30:29, as they protected their fourth place with one round to go.
Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen, who recently won the 2019 IHF Men’s World Championship with Denmark, was happy with the level of performance from his side. “We improved a lot compared to our last games and I am happy with the victory.
“It was a very good game and showed that both teams want to fight for fourth place in our group - we both have a hard last group game ahead of us and it will be exciting to see who finishes fourth.”
The Polish side, who have lost four of their last five VELUX EHF Champions League games, host Veszprem next week, while Löwen travel to Barça, with the side from Germany only recording two wins in six away games this season in the elite club competition.